The Atascadero High football team likes to run downhill and grind out games.
Nipomo prefers to spread the ball out and rack up yards through the air.
On their home soil and on the strength of a career day from fullback-turned-halfback Ethan Hicks, the Greyhounds prevailed in the battle of contrasting styles Friday night, 35-21.
“You just have to contain them,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said of the Titans’ high-octane offense. “They’re going to make plays … you kind of just play bend but don’t break and hope as they move the ball down the field, eventually you can capitalize on a mistake.”
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Atascadero’s primary method for moving the ball was Hicks, who started the season blocking for junior Marc Martin but became the featured back as Martin battles an ankle injury from the second week of the season against Morro Bay.
The senior made the most of his career-high 24 carries, rushing for 159 yards and three touchdowns.
“My guys kept pushing me and telling me to take it one play at a time,” Hicks said of the extra workload. “I’m not going to give up on my team. I know we were really thin, so I just had to keep going and do my job.”
Hicks scored on runs of 15, 3 and 13 yards, and caught a key third-and-5 pass from Tommy Carr for 19 yards with seven minutes to play with the Greyhounds up 27-21. The play, in which Carr scrambled and found Hicks leaking out of the backfield, kept a drive alive that ended with Hicks’ final TD run.
“That was the play of the game,” Nipomo coach Russ Edwards said. “That extended the drive and kept us on the field with six or seven more plays of them pounding it rather than us getting the defense off the field.”
When the Titans’ offense was on the field, it continued to fill the stat sheet the way it had done through the first four games of the season.
Quarterback Matt Albright completed 28 of 39 passes for 298 yards, including a 57-yard pass to Brandon Hettenhouser to make it 27-21 in the third quarter.
But Nipomo (3-2) was held scoreless in the fourth quarter, as Jordan Council sacked Albright twice and Hicks batted a ball away on third-and-5 when the Greyhounds (4-1) still held just a six-point lead.
“We swarmed to the ball really well,” Hicks said. “We missed a couple of tackles in the beginning of the game, but we definitely hung together and played well.”
After Hicks’ second touchdown of the first half, a 3-yard score, the Greyhounds took advantage of a Nipomo miscue on the ensuing kickoff. Nobody ran to claim the squib kick, and Atascadero’s Jedi Damery covered the live ball on the Titans’ 27-yard-line.
“That was a momentum killer,” Edwards said. “Our front guy is taught if the ball’s over his head, the back guy needs to field it. The back guys is taught to run up to it, but typically you don’t have a ball that lands and just dies.
“That was just a really unfortunate break on a well-placed football.”
Three plays later, Carr hit Jason Goossens on a swing pass that the senior took 10 yards for a score — the Greyhounds’ second touchdown in a 33-second span.
“I wish I could say that was a good call,” Cooper said of the kickoff. “Their two scores there real quick were probably the difference.”
Albright was 18 of 23 in the first half for 194 yards and an interception to Cole Mueller on a last-ditch heave on the final play of the second quarter. He was 6 of 6 to four different receivers on the Titans’ opening drive, and then capped it off with a 1-yard plunge of his own to tie the game at 7-7.
After Atascadero’s scoring spurt to go up 20-7, Albright marched the Titans right down the field, finding Nick Kimball on a 41-yard go route. Kimball made an acrobatic catch, turning back and jumping over his defender to haul the pass inside the 5-yard line.
Owens punched it in on the next play to make it a six-point game.
Atascadero led 20-14 at halftime, but it could have been more if not for two touchdowns, including an 83-yard pass to Tony Quintero, called back by holding penalties.
To add insult to injury, on the two ensuing plays, Carr was intercepted on deep balls by Kimball.
“After playing smaller schools, it boosted our confidence a bit and this was a good contest for us,” said Kimball, who also caught three passes for 56 yards and boomed a 51-yard punt. “A loss is a loss, but we’re going to come back hard against (Arroyo Grande) next week.”
Hettenhouser finished with seven catches for 113 yards for Nipomo, and Chris Owens ran 16 times for 81 yards and a score.
Atascadero’s Cooper Kuhnle took an end around 45 yards to open the scoring in the second half in addition to his two catches for 12 yards. Nick Ducasse had a 32-yard run and stuffed Owens on a fourth-and-2 rush in the first half in addition to lead blocking on nearly all of Hicks’ runs.
“We’re a little thin because of injuries and (Hicks) and Nick Ducasse had to step up and play both ways,” said Cooper, whose team was coming off its first loss of the year, 49-20 at San Clemente. “Nick did a lot of the blocking and Ethan got a lot of the carries.
“It’s a long season, and every step is part of the growing process. Last week was part of the growing process, and hopefully we got a week better.”